Most UCLA departments and programs have switched from paper to online evaluations for students to assess their instructors and courses, though some faculty members are hesitant about the change.
All instructors must be evaluated by students, according to university policy. Evaluation results are considered when instructors plan their courses, or apply for tenure and promotions.
The Office of Instructional Development started the online evaluation pilot program in 2010 after seeing the need to make evaluating instructors more cost and time efficient, environmentally sustainable and convenient for students, said Joanne Valli-Meredith, director of evaluation and educational assessment for the Office of Instructional Development. 78 of approximately 110 departments and programs are now participating in the online evaluation program and the office expects more to join this quarter, Valli-Meredith said.
The transition from paper to online evaluations is voluntary for each department and must include department-wide participation in the program, she said.
The Office of Instructional Development has encouraged faculty to inform their students about the importance of instructor evaluations and to possibly offer time in class for students to fill out the online forms, Valli-Meredith said.
Robert Brown, undergraduate vice chair of the mathematics department , said typing up the written comments from paper evaluations took a large amount of time and effort from staff.
His department’s shift to online surveys in fall 2011 has increased the efficiency of the evaluations process, he said.
But some faculty members were hesitant to support the change to online evaluations.
Barbara Fuchs, a professor in the English department – one of the departments that has yet to join the program – said she does not want to use online evaluations in her classes because she thinks she receives a better quality of feedback from paper, in-class evaluations.
“Online evaluations promote a sense of anonymity and disconnection,” Fuchs said.
“Although paper evaluations are also anonymous, their being administered in class fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility, which leads to constructive criticism.”
Some faculty have also expressed concerns that the change could affect an instructor’s ability to receive tenure or obtain a promotion if the decrease in student response rates affects the overall results of instructor evaluations.
Student response rates for the online evaluations still lag behind in-class paper evaluations.
Online response rates have increased by almost 10 percent since the office first offered the online service as a pilot program in fall 2010, Valli-Meredith said. Paper evaluations, however, generate a higher average response rate of about 75 to 85 percent.
The Office of Instructional Development has been conducting research to compare the results of paper evaluations with online evaluations.
To date, the results have shown that decreased student-response rates have no statistically significant effect on the outcome of instructor evaluations, Valli-Meredith said.
Eric D’Hoker, vice chair of academic affairs for the physics and astronomy department, said he approves of the program but thinks students need more encouragement to complete the online forms.
“It’s easy for faculty to administer, the problem is that the response rates from students are pretty low,” D’Hoker said. “When time isn’t set aside (in class), the response rate is pretty disappointing.”
D’Hoker said that since evaluation results have not significantly changed since the department began using online surveys, he does not think the program will impact a faculty member’s prospects for tenure.
But he added that he thinks a lower student response rate in small classes could affect the outcome of a teacher’s rating.
“(Results) could be misconstrued negatively,” he said.
James Caufield, a lecturer in the English department, said he has had about 10 years of experience using paper evaluations at UCLA and thinks they serve their purpose well, though he sees the move to online evaluations to be inevitable.
“Virtually all our teaching functions are moving online,” Caufield said. “There’s no resisting that.”
The Office of Instructional Development plans to research why some courses receive higher student response rates than others, Valli-Meredith said.
To increase student response rates, the Office of Instructional Development sends email reminders to students and has made the evaluations accessible through smartphones and tablets, Valli-Meredith said.
Brian Paddon, a third-year anthropology student who has used the online evaluation system, said he thinks offering online evaluations improves the quality of student feedback collected.
“You can give more comprehensive feedback (on online evaluations) instead of filling out a survey in class just because you’re forced to – just to get it done,” Paddon said.
Valli-Meredith said the Office of Instructional Development plans to expand its online evaluation services, contingent on departments’ willingness to adopt the changes.